On November 11, 1921, President Harding presided over the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknowns, also commonly called the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which originally honored fallen American servicemen from World War I whose remains had not been identified.
Congress approved the creation of the memorial in March 1921. To ensure that the identity of the American really was unknown, the bodies of four unidentified WWI servicemen were disinterred from various French cemeteries. They were placed in identical caskets and brought to Chalons-sur-Marne, France, where Sgt. Edward F. Younger, a war hero, selected one of the four caskets at random during a ceremony at the city hall on October 24.
The selected casket was placed on board the USS Olympia during another ceremony and sent to the United States, where it arrived on November 9. The casket was brought with much dignity to the Capitol, where the casket was put on public display on the 10th. An estimated 90,000 people came to pay their respects to the Unknown Soldier—so many that the rotunda was kept open until midnight to accommodate them all.
On the morning of November 11, the newly declared Armistice Day holiday, the enormous funeral procession for the Unknown Solider proceeded from the Capitol to Arlington National Cemetery. During the funeral at Arlington’s Memorial Amphitheater, President Harding gave a speech and bestowed the Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross on the Unknown Soldier; other nations also bestowed their highest honors.
The casket was then moved to the tomb, where a funeral service was read, and then officials and dignitaries laid wreaths and other tributes. The funeral ended with the playing of Taps and a 21-gun salute.
At the time of the burial, the tomb had yet to be completed. The marble structure that now stands was installed in 1932 and bears the inscription “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known but to God.” Unknown soldiers representing the fallen of World War II and the Korean War were laid to rest at the monument in 1958. A soldier from the Vietnam War was interred at the monument in 1984, but through DNA testing the body was positively identified in 1998 and returned to his family.
If you’re interested in honoring your own family’s military heroes, consider creating or expanding a Memorial Page for them on Fold3’s Honor Wall.